'Phubbing' your children could put them at risk of depression, study finds

The researchers found that children who felt ignored by their parents were more likely to report depressive symptoms. (Getty)

“Phubbing” your children could put them at increased risk of depression, a study has shown – part of a growing body of evidence of the indirect harm posed by smartphones.

The term refers to snubbing people to look at your phone (“phone” plus “snubbing” equals “phubbing”).

A Chinese study investigated children aged 10-18 to assess the effects of being phubbed by your own parents.

The researchers interviewed 530 students, assessing their depressive symptoms using a questionnaire.

The research, published in the Journal of Adolescence, found that children who felt ignored by their parents were more likely to report depressive symptoms than those who had their parents’ undivided attention.


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The researchers found that “parental phubbing was associated with students’ depression in late childhood and adolescence through two paths”.

They added: “The present study highlights the need to establish family norms regulating mobile phone use to reduce phubbing.

“The results of the mediation tests revealed that parental phubbing has both direct and indirect effects on their children's depression. For the direct path, parental phubbing was positively associated with the students' depression.”

Habits such as having a mobile phone on the table during meal times were cited as examples of problematic phone use.

The research acknowledged it used small sample size, but pointed out that it went beyond previous studies to provide detailed information about the mechanisms of the risk effects of parental phubbing.

Phubbing has previously been linked to relationship problems between adults.

In a separate poll, a third of people in relationships in the UK said they have been phubbed, and it’s worse among the young, with 57% of people aged 25-34 saying it affects their love lives.

Respondents in the survey of 2,000 people said phones can build mistrust, cause arguments and even lead to infidelity.

Amanda Rimmer, of Stephensons Solicitors LLP, which commissioned the poll, said: “Some couples now spend more time in bed with their mobile phone than being affectionate with each other.

“People sleep with their phone, eat with it, play with it and talk to it – it's almost a relationship itself.

“We've experienced a surge in divorce inquiries in the last five years because of phoneaholic partners, with many people citing a partner's secretive mobile phone behaviour as an indication that the relationship is falling apart.’